Bad Girl, Good Business

Why is Your Business Like a Bar or Nightclub? (Business of Fun #11)

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You may promote Friday happy hour, but that’s not the whole answer.
Yesterday, I wrote about the colorful history of the drinking establishment and the size of the spirits industry. What many people from outside the industry don’t realize is that it’s a vast and complex business with lots of moving parts and challenges. Although technology can help build a bar business (the topic of this weekend’s post), drinking spirits with other people is an activity that takes place IRL (in real life, for those of you who didn’t get the memo).
Bar owners and managers (like most other entrpreneurs and leaders) need to pay attention to four key things: Place, Product, People, and Plan. (I love those alliterations!) Among my reality show vices is “Bar Rescue,” and the show always deals with gaps and solutions in those four areas.
Location, location, location
Where you open your business is key. In any retail business, attracting customers and talent is a matter of convenience. Although having a “secret” club is a cool idea, until you’ve established media or word-of-mouth buzz and great reviews on travel and hospitality sites, a fine line exists between intruiging and non-existent. Knowing who your market is, where they hang out, and how to appeal to them is important — whether you’re selling beer or bath soap. I’ve worked with small businesses who chose to locate off the beaten track or in up-and-coming areas. Marketing is more expensive and requires more patience than the highly-visible grand opening in a well-trafficked location. Here’s a great guide to selecting a retail location. Hiring a consultant or seasoned commercial broker who represents tenants can also be a wise move.
Of course, knowing who you’re trying to attract to your business is part of the recipe for success. I just wrote an article about how bars can capture more of the older market — a population that’s 80 mllion strong. Do you really know who your customers are — and could be in the future? Pay attention to who is consuming your product. It could give rise to new business opportunities!
How do you make a beer seem special?
Let’s face it…most bars serve the same basic products. Booze is something of a commodity. What differentiates one establishment from another is the customer experience. Bar owners are not just selling drinks…they are also selling atmosphere, community, and service. Rude bartenders, ear-splitting noise level, or dirty bathrooms can be a major turn-offs for patrons. Business owners need to put themselves in the customer’s shoes (or sneakers, as the case may be, depending on the demographic). Do not ignore the basics of your business while you’re adding fruity garnishes to your concoctions.
But those garnishes can differentiate your business from others. Bars that offer an ever-changing range of small-batch beers or mix up their seasonal menus give customers a reason to keep coming back. Consumers are fickle. Keep things fresh and offer unexpected surprises. And, of course, be on the look-out for trends and new cool offerings…but don’t do it at the expense of the basics.
Your people are part of your product.
Although career bartenders do exist, bar staff can be a transient crew. As with any business, creating a culture and atmosphere that makes people happy and compels them to want to stick around is so important, especially in a service business. Managing inventory, payroll, and scheduling is a challenge that most bar owners and managers face. It’s an area that’s primed for innovation of technology and lots of cloud-based companies have emerged over the past few years to streamline deadly boring and inefficient tasks.
Speaking of people, how do you manage those “unruly” customers who rant — in and outside your establishment. A big issue for a lot of companies these days is having customers complain online, on sites such as Yelp or reviews on Google. Training employees how to deal with people they can’t stand is critical, as is monitoring your online reviews to make sure quality issues are being properly addressed. You might not have to deal with drunken patrons in your own business, but everyone has to learn how to set boundaries and occasionally have the metaphorical bouncer show someone the door.
Marketing mixology makes all the difference.
You could have a flashy bartender who puts on a great show, but if the drink is watered-down and tasteless, it’s all just fleeting entertainment. Having a solid content plan that delivers across all media — digital and conventional — is especially important in a category where you have lots of competition and are selling commodity products. The beauty of marketing in the bar business is that it’s overflowing with user-generated content, which 85% of consumers say is more important in decision-making than traditional advertising!
Above all, have a plan. Whether it’s scrawled on the back of a bar napkin or using tech-y tools like StratPad or Mindmeister, putting your vision, goal, and execution steps down on paper or screen will help ensure the glass (and your wallet) is always full!
Whether you run a bar or have another venture, many of the above principles apply. Need help raising the bar on your own business or brand? Contact us about how we can help you with your plan, content, or social media marketing!
Up next: How technology is changing the bar and hospitality business. 



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